People often refer to Britain by another name. They call it ‘England’, but this is not correct. England is only one of the four nations living there. The others are Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Their political unification was a gradual process that took several hundred years. It was completed in1800 when the Irish parliament was joined with the parliament for England, Scotland, and Wales in Westminster, so that the whole area became a single state – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However, in 1922, most of Ireland became a separate state.
At one time, culture and lifestyle varied enormously across the four nations. The dominant culture of people in Ireland, Wales and Highland Scotland was Celtic; that of people in England and Lowland Scotland was Germanic. This difference was reflected in the languages they spoke. People in the Celtic areas spoke Celtic languages; peoples in the Germanic arrears spoke Germanic dialects (including the one which has developed into modern English).
Today, these differences have become blurred, but they have not completely disappeared. Many aspects of government are organized separately (and sometimes differently) in the four parts of the United Kingdom. Moreover, Welsh, Scottish and Irish people feel their identity very strongly.
It cannot be denied that the dominant culture of Britain today is specifically English. The system of politics that is used in all four nations today is of English origin, and English is the main language of all four nations. Many aspects of everyday life are organized according to English custom and practice.
Today, English domination can be detected in the way in which various aspects of British public life are described. For example, the supply of money in Britain is controlled by the Bank of England (there is no such thing as a ‘Bank of Britain’). The common use of the term ‘Anglo’ is a further indication. (The Angles were a Germanic tribe who settled in England in the fifth century. The word England is derived from their name.) When newspapers and the television news talk about ‘Anglo-American relations’, they are talking about relations between the governments of Britain and the USA.
· Another image of cultural and symbolic significance is that of John Bull: a stubborn, kindly and affable but blustering farmer, who is supposed to personify Englishness and certain English virtues. He is like a bulldog in appearance and temperament. John Bull, with his top hat, his comfortable clothes, the substantial stomach, and his substantial balance at the bank, evokes an idyllic rural past.
· The Union flag, often known as the ‘Union Jack’, is the national flag of the UK. It is a combination of the cross of St. George, the cross of St. Andrew and the cross of St. Patrick. It can be said that while the Union Jack can be seen flying at international conferences and decorating lapel badges, it is often used today as a design for T-shirts, a pattern for dyed hair. In other words, along with other traditional symbols of England and Britain, such as John Bull, Albion and Britannia, it is used as a sigh of solidarity against others. Britons have always defined themselves as an island people whose singularity and separateness is illustrated by the channel of water dividing them from the Continent.
· Other tokens of national identity: Surnames and First names
- The prefix ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’ (such as McCall, MacCarty, MacDonald) is Scottish or Irish. The prefix ‘O’ (as in O’Brien, O’Connor) is Irish. A large number of surnames (for example, Evans, Jones, Morgan, Price, Williams) suggest Welsh origin. The most common surname in both England and Scotland is ‘Smith’.
- The Scottish of ‘John’ is Ian and its Irish form is ‘Sean’, although all three names are common throughout of Britain.
- Clothes. The kilt, a skirt with a tartan pattern worn by men, is a very well-known symbol of Scottishness (though it is hardly ever worn in everyday life).
- Musical instruments. The harp is an emblem of both Wales and Ireland. Bagpipes are regarded as distinctively Scottish, although a smaller type is also used in traditional Irish music.
There are certain stereotypes of national character which are well known in Britain. For instance, the Irish are supposed to be great talkers, the Scots have a reputation for being careful with money and the Welsh are renowned for their singing ability. These are, of course, only caricatures and not reliable descriptions of individual people from these countries. Nevertheless, they indicated some slight differences in the value attached to certain kinds of behaviour in these countries.